Swan Lake

The Russian ballet is world-renowned.  Thus, when in Russia, attending the ballet is definitely within one’s top ten things to do.  On the eve of the second day of the Business Environment in Russia course, our group of nineteen ventured through the Metro and the streets to the see Tchaikovsky’s Swan Lake in its birthplace.  Though I was a bit saddened that the best company, Marinsky Theatre, wasn’t showing, I was advised that this performance should still be on par.  From the diversity of language and the faces of the crowd, I would guess that at least three-fourths of the audience was tourists.  This was the first omen. 

Just as one can surmise the quality of an ethnic restaurant by the amount of people of that ethnicity in patronage, a decidedly non-Russian crowd with cameras flashing every two seconds revealed that this performance was targeted to tourists like myself—people willing to pay for and attend any ballet simply because it is Russian. 

As the lights dimmed and the crowd simmered, I pushed these thoughts to the recesses of my mind.  As the curtains rise and the performance commences, the women adorned in tutus wear strained smiles as they awkwardly prance about.  The lead dancer is strikingly obvious: Her brilliant stage presence and artfully fluid motions place her leagues above her colleagues, making the audience zone in on her if only to avoid watching the pitiful struggle of her underlings.  But even she, in her relative magnificence, fails to satisfy.  At best, she is mediocre, as in her grand moment of the spins of the evil swan can barely master eighteen pirouettes.   Of course, I could never attempt even a quarter of her spins. 

But a performance is a performance.  It is supposed to create awe, to inspire and to brutally highlight the relative ineptness of the audience.  The only character who had an inkling of such power was the joker.  Commanding the attention of every eye, regardless of the scene, his energy and presence were entrancing.  Now, that’s a performer.  Between the immense movements of Tchaikovsky and the so-so performance of the dancers and the extravagant red velvet theater, Swan Lake was nevertheless a Russian night to remember


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